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Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Notice Cards

Regular SNR operators know that there is a switchlist posted at each town to guide a local crew's regular work.  

However for occasional random events such as flag stops, setting out a car going a different direction, business car moves, etc., I have relied on notes attached to a train order.  The regular train order directs you to consult the note at a certain step.  I have my traffic software generate the notes along with the switchlist. 

The downside of this, aside from all the CPA work (Cut, Paste, Assemble) - (I can say that, I'm a CPA) - is that, because the real estate on the orders is pretty limited, the notes are printed in a reeeeeeeallly tiny font.  (Getting pretty hard to read for all these old guys I operate with.)  😉

So due to both considerations, I've overhauled that process.  Microscopic "notes" have now been replaced by color-coded "Notice" cards, which are posted on the layout fascia, as near to the town's panel or depot as possible.  It's analogous to notices hooped up along with orders to train crews on the prototype, or bulletins posted at control points.  

Asterisks on the order now direct the crewman's attention to an external Notice at a specific location.  

Large fonts for the train symbol and big color blocks should make the Notice cards easy to identify at a distance.  Clipping them to the fascia should keep the crewman from having to juggle multiple documents with the train order, and eliminate the risk of them getting separated.  

The inscrutable note in 8pt Arial Narrow font, 
formerly stuck to the old PL-3 order, 
has been replaced with 
a clear and friendly Notice card on the fascia. 

The Notice cards are red, yellow, or green.  Red is for passenger train flag stops.  Yellow means pay attention because there is some special switching work to do.  Green means no action is required.  

Green is important because, just like a clear signal, green not only indicates that you can proceed, it also provides positive confirmation that you have indeed found the indication at the place where you were expecting to find an indication, so you're not left searching.  Every asterisked note on a train order will have a notice card on the fascia, in some color or other.     

Local passenger trains have scheduled stops at stations of any actual import, and flag stops (conditional) at places like Podunk and East Backwater.  So the bright red notice card functions as a station agent's flag at those locations. 

Even across Segway's congested alcove, 
Train 32's crewman should have no trouble seeing 
the bright red Notice card below the Hadley depot, 
telling him he needs to make a flag stop in that little hamlet today.

A side benefit to the scheme is the ability to at last remove the MoW equipment from the switchlist for Dominion.  No matter how many ways I've tried to handle this, it universally generates confusion, as to whether the switchlist indicates the cars that should be on the Materials Yard's siding, or the cars that should be in the MoW train.  

Now the Notice card unambiguously stipulates the moves.  
I printed up extra blank cards to accommodate random cars 
and future additions to the MoW fleet. 

It's my hope that this scheme will reduce confusion, eye strain, and setup time all at once, while still allowing me to "call an audible" - to deviate from the playbook occasionally, and keep the defense guessing.  It's also open-ended, allowing for future interesting wrinkles to be added pretty easily. 

So watch for asterisks on your next SNR train order, and look for a Notice card at a control point near you!

Thanks for reading.  Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms...

"I'll lay around this shack
'Til the mail train comes back, 
And I'll be rollin' in my sweet baby's arms."

-- Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs

SNR 4228 and 4200, two mail-express cars converted from WW2 troop sleepers, 
show off their new paint schemes.  

I've been fascinated by mail trains for a long time, with their typically mixed bag of equipment and color schemes, and being so iconic for the classic era.  The variety of colors came from being decorated in their roads' multiple passenger schemes, for use as head-end cars on name trains.  As passenger consists and standard liveries changed, cars with those snazzier paint jobs began to drift down into the nameless mail runs. 

One of the more interesting species in the mail phylum was the converted WW2-era troop sleeper.  These were basically 50' boxcars outfitted for military passenger service, built in quantity and on the cheap during the war.  But after de-mobilization they were surplussed - available for little above scrap value, despite having seen only a couple of years of use.  Riding on high-speed trucks and carrying passenger accoutrements including steam and electric lines, end doors, and diaphragms, they were ideally suited for conversion to bargain express equipment that could run with the fast-mails.

Walthers made a good model of these cars 15-ish years ago.  I grabbed several and painted them Pullman Green, such as #4212 above, since PG was the standard (only) SNR passenger scheme going at the time.  Just like life.  But once the fancier passenger schemes took shape on the SNR, I applied them to some of the mail equipment as well - also just like life - and in so doing, I developed a deep need to doll up a couple more of these troop sleeper conversions too.  It just took a while to finally make the time.

Here's a look at each of the two, along with a brief history of the livery.


Tidewater scheme (1934)

Number 4228 was one of several cars painted into the Tidewater scheme when the block was first acquired, in 1946.  
They were originally intended for head-end service on the Tidewater and other name trains.  

This livery dates to the SNR's first major order for lightweight streamlined cars.  In the mid-1930's - the age of Zoot and Art Deco - the Depression was beginning to ebb and it was time to re-equip the Cincinnati-to-Suffolk flagship train, which was still all heavyweights.  The new Tidewater's blue-with-orange-stripes scheme and art moderne font established the road's lasting color identity - long before the first diesels were on the property.   

Flanked by other mail equipment in the Tidewater scheme,
car 4228 heads west on mail-express #19 at Segway, Va.


Queen City scheme (1947)

The class leader #4200 was repainted from the green in 1951, 
for use on the Toledo train that connected with the Queen City at Jackson, O.

As with the C&O's Chessie, the SNR attempted to liven things up in the late 40's and spark a resurgence in passenger traffic with the introduction of an entirely new day train, the Queen City.  Cars for the all-coach Queen City comprised the railway's first order for stainless steel equipment, and so ushered in a new variant of the passenger scheme as well.  

This livery became the new standard for passenger car repaints, with Imitation Aluminum paint replacing actual stainless steel on conventional equipment, including mail cars.  As with "the Tidewater scheme", this became known as "the Queen City scheme" for the train that introduced it - or simply, "the Budd scheme".  

EMD's Art & Color Section actually developed the design in 1940 for the E6s, SNR's first order for passenger diesels.  That design incorporated the steam-era Tidewater's blue-with-orange-stripes uniform, but anticipated future orders for stainless equipment by adding silver lower side panels (not to mention a big silver bow wave on the shovel-nose diesels).  WW2 restrictions, however, meant years would pass before the first stainless cars could be delivered by Budd to match. 

Car 4200 rolls into the St. Amour Rail Terminal on mail-express #20 -  
trailing a pair of the E6s which had foreshadowed its paint scheme,
and ahead of a Budd baggage-mail car whose paint-on-stainless layout it mimics.   

I'm very pleased to be displacing a bit of the Pullman Green, and injecting a little more color and variety into the mail runs.  Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 29, 2022

Modernized FPS Box Car

I was driving through Segway, Va. the other day, and took a swing past Yaeger Yard on the SNR as I often try to do - and found this interesting item had shown up.

It's one of Forest Park Southern's venerable fleet of double-sheathed cars from the early 20's, yes, but this one looks like it has been to the spa.  It's been rebuilt recently, and kept its wooden sides, but that's about it - the FPS shops have treated it to new Dreadnaught ends, power hand brake, Youngstown doors, and a lacey new steel roofwalk, along with a fresh coat of paint.  

Judging by the weathering, I'm guessing the overhaul was done around '46 or '47, as were a lot of the wooden car rebuilds, once a little steel was available again.  

It's good to see this car was still solid enough to get a new lease on life.  A lot of those old 8' ceiling jobs just got beat to death during the war, and are getting scrapped outright.    

The Actual Story

Several months ago, good ol' Bill Doll (Forest Park Southern) gave me a Train-Miniature double-sheathed car with Dreadnaught ends and wood doors, lettered for FPS.  Since it was still in kit form, I asked him if he'd mind if I updated it a little bit.  

Most of the pre-war wood cars I've seen from the early 50s that were lucky enough to receive Dreadnaught ends during a rebuild, usually also had their wooden doors and running boards replaced.  Those would have been easy to do, and it's likely that the doors would have been just as beat as the original wooden or Murphy ends.  And the steel running boards would have been a general safety improvement, even if the wooden ones were still in decent shape.  

So this car received a pair of Tichy 6' Youngstown doors, which are 8½' tall but easily trimmed down to 8'.  I sliced down the enormous TM lower door guides as part of the door replacement.  The gossamer-thin open-grate roofwalk is from Kadee - which juuuuuust about fit.  Those TM cars are diminutive in every dimension, but by taking a small graft out of the center of the Kadee part, I was able to settle it in.

Fortunately the car was in standard Box Car Red, so I could touch up just the doors and roofwalk, and blend everything together with pastels.

I love having cars from friends' railroads running around the SNR, and I love variations on a standard to keep things interesting.  Bill's present gave me both - thanks, Bill!

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Alleghany Scrap

Alleghany Scrap Inc. is a dealer and processor of "previously enjoyed" ferrous material in St. Amour, W. Va.  They receive inbound scrap in gondolas and via truck, cutting the larger items to sizes required by the mills, and stockpiling the outbound product to take best advantage of market prices.  They also receive and dismantle rolling scrap, such as retired or wrecked locomotives and cars.**    

This is yet another project I have been ruminating over since the Reagan administration, that has always taken a back seat to more pressing matters, such as mainline ops and raising children.   

For 28 years the scrapyard in St. Amour has been an unsightly sector of bare homasote, with some piles of refuse and a SceneMaster crane on it, guarded by one 9" segment of corrugated roofing implying a fence.  A few years ago I went so far as to dig out all the dead steam locomotives from DC days that I could find, and set them on some loose track, to suggest a source for all the scrap that the yard loads out.  And I've been accumulating parts and chunks for the scrap heaps all the while, just waiting for motivation.  

But recently, after musing with my friend Darren Williamson (IHB) about how I've been wanting to have dead-in-tow engines show up in road trains and get delivered to the scrapyard, his enthusiasm for the idea finally lit a fuse.  Naturally the couple-of-weeks project has taken me 3 months, but I'm pleased to finally get Alleghany Scrap Inc. presentable.

The national steel strike in early '52 depressed scrap prices badly, and had Alleghany stockpiling material anywhere it would fit.  But with the strike now over, the firm is desperate to move tonnage before the heaps overwhelm the yard.

One of the limiting factors had been that I really wanted to have an overhead travelling crane running as much of the length of the yard as possible, but - I only had one of the Walthers kits on hand.  These kits have been so widely used, and out of stock for sooooo long, that there were virtually none of them for sale out in the ether. 

Enter to the rescue my friend John Miller (Kanawha & Lake Erie), who has, in the enormous outbuilding that houses his layout, at least three of everything.  John scraped together almost an entire kit from random bits for me, and further was kind enough to refuse payment.  Thanks again John!

So I was able to aggregate about 1½ Walthers cranes, and, use some of the extra uprights to construct trusses for horizonal stabilizers.  This was done both to capture an interesting design element, and stabilize the model.  They also provide useful interference to uncoupling operations for the St. Amour switch crew.  


Alleghany's tracked crane works to load a gondola from the "outbound" pile.  The crane is a basic Walthers SceneMaster item - but a little paint, weathering, glass, and foil for the treads gave it some "pop".  The electromagnet is from the spare Walthers overhead crane kit.

Derelict signs, gaslight lampposts, and channel cutoffs are just some of the items in the "inbound" pile, waiting to be cut into morsels suitable for the arc furnaces.

Scrap piled by the street gate, waiting to be reduced, includes sections of a wrecked Pullman, in SNR's Tidewater scheme.

Most railroads began dieselization with switchers.  So diminutive locomotives have begun to arrive in quantity at the salvage yard, as the railroads have become comfortable that internal combustion can handle the demands.

The cutting crew works on reducing a little saddle-tanker to tiny bits, as the travelling crane absconds with its cab roof.*** (There's probably an "I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight" joke in there somewhere with the Cutting Crew reference, but I'm letting it go.)   

Both cranes were supplied by a reputable local dealer, down the road from St. Amour in Flowing Springs, W. Va..  Legend has it that when the wisecracking owner of BILD-OLL was confronted with the irony of his "Build-All" cranes being used in a scrapping operation, he quipped, "Sorry, 'Wrecks-All' was already taken." **** 

First order of business for the scrapyard upgrade, oddly enough, was a new "proper" loading dock for the Combustioneer plant, which runs behind the fence.  Of course you can only see about 3% of it from the aisle, but I know it's there.

The St. Amour switcher ducks between the opposing gates to pull outbound loads - one bearing general small and cut scrap, and one from under the gantry comprising chunks of an old hopper.  No matter the source though, it's all headed for the furnace, to become beer cans, boat anchors, or Buicks.

The SNR dieselization program has begun to trickle down to subsidiary roads now.  Manifest freight SM-8 arrives in town towing a venerable Prairie-type locomotive from predecessor Cincinnati, Jackson & Gallipolis, the "Apple Hill Road".   The engine was dispatched from the former CJ&G's main terminal in Jackson, Ohio, eastbound via Gallipolis.  

Railroads often stenciled or chalked the destination on out-of-service rolling stock.  This is also done to avoid confounding the Yaeger yardmaster, since such vessels would not be on the switchlist.  

The tired old CJ&G locomotive's last ride comes to an end, as it's spotted on a "cut" track at Alleghany by the Della St. yard crew.  


** As a teenager I read the book The Twilight of Steam Locomotives by Ron Ziel about 400 times.  It contained a chapter on the scrapping process, which chronicled the death of an enormous CB&Q 2-10-4.  This both sickened and fascinated me, and left me with a lifelong need to model the industry.  An NMRA Bulletin article from the 1970's introduced me to the fact that towing retired steam engines to scrap was a routine part of revenue freight movements, and I've been itching for some time to include that aspect as well.  But I needed a functional, powered switch to the "cut" tracks first, which begat the whole project.

*** This little mini-scene predates everything.  I built it for a module, as a teenager in 1979.  I've updated it a little, but it keeps its original crudity, largely due to the Dockside having been given to me already broken and missing its cylinder saddle.  I always enjoyed the John Allen-esque display of the guts of an actual model engine, though, and the weight's shape makes a useful stand-in for a saddle tank too.  Sadly the cutoff bits from the tank, that had been glued to the module scene, went into the dumpster along with the rest of the modular layout when we abandoned it about 1990.   

**** BILD-OLL Cranes Inc. is named for my wisecracking friend, Bill Doll (Forest Park Southern).

 👉 Donations of dead steam engines 👈
for use as rolling scrap 
 👉 are now proudly accepted! 👈

If you have an old cheapie you'd like to see have a whole 'nother life, please email me.  
I've got a few in reserve, but the more variety the better.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Go Blue?

What, me root for Michigan in the Orange Bowl?  Hardly.  Although you do have to give them respect for the devastation wrought upon No. 2 ranked Ohio State a few weeks ago.

But no, the title question relates instead to model railroad lighting

Here's the Executive Summary:

I am experimenting with changing the lighting in the railroad room from "soft white", a warmish yellow, 
to "daylight", a cooler blue.  Want opinions!  Read on for rationale, analysis, and spiritual angst.

Cool White

In the beginning, the model Earth was without warmth, and void.  And cold gray from fluorescent tubes was upon the face of the layouts.  And God said, "Let there be warm light!"  And there was warm light.  

Soft White

CF bulbs made their debut, and suddenly it was possible to light a model railroad with a cheerier, sunnier "soft white", without roasting your crew with incandescent bulbs, not to mention annihilating your electricity budget.

I seized upon this new technology - back when I cared about new technology - and built 41 "can" spotlights, illuminating the Suffolk Northern in its new quarters with a warm yellow light, at the total draw of a scant 583 watts.  

However, it's often cloudy, misty, and dim in the Appalachians.  I painted the sky with a very pale overcast blue.  I painted the backdrop forest working from photos taken on a rainy day in the Blue Ridge - and ended up with a backdrop looking not cheery and sunny, but rather like a rainy day in the Blue Ridge.  And as described in the Trees page, I accidentally created a blue-shifted palette with the foliage, that turned out to coincide nicely with the backdrop.  All blue.

So for a while now I have been looking at that sunny yellow light falling on my blue forest and thinking it just ain't right.  The feeling has been exacerbated by the CF's tendency to both dim and green-shift as they age.  


Enter LED bulbs.  Now not only could I cut my wattage in half again, but I had an option to go with a 5000K "daylight" color - about the same Kelvin color temperature as "cool white", actually - but in a screw-base bulb I could use with my existing spotlight cans.  I have had two of them aimed at the summit at Misty, W. Va. for a while, for contrast.  

Well after the requisite number of months of ruminating, last week I finally went ahead and ordered enough bulbs to do one of the two rooms.  I started with the west room, the much more mountainous and remote of the two.  I plan to run with the half & half plan for a while, so I can see how I like it  before making a final decision - to either "Go Blue", or roll it back to yellow.

Photo Pairs.  Ish.

Here are a few before/after shots.  Upon study you can tell some difference in the color of the trees, backdrop, and fascia, but unfortunately the point-and-shoot cell phone pics auto-correct for much of it.  It really makes an impact in person.

I would be delighted to hear opinions, on both the poor photo comparisons, as well as from ops crewmen once you've actually experienced it.  

Preliminary Findings

Here is some early analysis (with expert commentary from the worlds of music, cinema, and literature):

"How blue can you get?"
-- B.B. King, "How Blue Can You Get" (1964)

1.    The bluer color definitely eliminates the clash with the palette of the trees, backdrop, and sky.  Things blend.  

"It's a little harsh."
-- Bill Murray, Caddyshack (1980)

2.    The effect is a bit striking.  Maybe I'm just used to the aging CFs, but there's a glare on the layout that is definitely new.  

"Too damn vivid."
-- Tom Robbins, Fierce Invalids Home From Hot Climates (2001)

3.    There is a sharper contrast in the colors of the models.  Limestone ballast and concrete definitely jump out at the viewer.  Certain of the trees may as well.  I'm not sure that's either good or bad.

"And Davy Crocket rides around and says it's cool for cats."
-- Squeeze, "Cool For Cats" (1979)

4.    It "feels" cooler in the layout room.  It feels more like what you'd expect up in the mountains.  

"That's some cold-___ ____."
-- Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction (1994)

5.    As a matter of fact it actually is cooler - reducing even the CF bulbs' scant wattage puts out noticeably less heat, which some of my more penguin-oriented friends will appreciate.  The proximity to the utility room means the layout room does heat up a bit when the boiler's a-firin'.   

"I love to live so pleasantly...  Lazing on this sunny afternoon."
-- The Kinks, Sunny Afternoon (1966)

6.    There is a mood change in the room.  Before, I'd often turn on some of the layout lights when working at my desk, because the warmer yellow light was just generally happier than the cool white of the fluorescent tube work lights.  It felt less isolated and basement-y.  Whereas the bluer light has eliminated that option, yielding something that feels more like being in an office.  Which as we know, feels like work.  Wasn't expecting the touchy-feely hippie angle - we'll have to see how much of an impact that makes after a bit.  


OK, so that's where it stands.  What do you think?  What do you light your layout with, and how do you like it?  

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

An A-B-A set of Baldwin "Sharknose" RF16s rolls through tiny Dominion, Va., with eastbound tonnage. 


Finally got the painting done on my set of BLI Baldwin Sharks, and got them running on the SNR!

[ Well there's the executive summary.  Below is just a bunch of detail about paint, reliability, and backstory if you're interested.  Hey it wouldn't be the SNR blog without an excess of that.


I bought them as an impulse purchase from a BLI sale email several years ago.  I've always loved these things - that pointy schnozz just makes them look like they should be bursting forth from period artwork, brimming with post-war confidence and optimism.  

Look - it's the perfect image, on a real PS cover! (OK, I added the slogan.)

I had resisted pursuing them for the SNR, because I have tried to maintain the "fleet" look by rostering multiples of things, and avoiding the one-offs.  That discipline was easy when there weren't any good models of Sharks out there.  But daggone Broadway Limited has changed that now, as they have on so many fronts - and the "sale" scent made it impossible to resist.

In 1952, the SNR is running road power in 3-unit sets, generally A-B-A for cab units, with the mid-consist engine unpowered.  So I bought two powered A-units, figuring I'd locate a dummy B-unit some other time. 

Speaking of "dummy" - it took a fair bit of fruitless searching for that unpowered B-unit before I finally determined that, lo, BLI does not offer the unpowered B-unit as a standalone item.  And, exactly why I passed on buying an A-B combo from the sale flyer in the first place - yes, it was offered - is lost to the cobwebs in my mental attic.  The conclusion?   Dummy.

So the B-unit I used is actually an old Model Power that I had lying around - a long-ago hand-off from my old friend Brian Field (Kentucky & NorthEastern).  I was pleased to discover that the proportions match very well with the BLIs - and once in matching paint and idling between the two As, its low-low-tech detailing actually doesn't stand out too much.  

Anyway, in a me-like fashion, I had let the BLIs lie around in their attractive boxes for at least a couple of years, before a looming power shortage finally got me to get them out, and get the sound tuned up to match the fleet.  I test ran them with a number of trains - then put them back into their boxes to await my interest in, and time for, painting them.

[ Another decision lost to the cobwebs in my mental attic is why the λΞЦ I ever thought I didn't want to decal stripes on engines, and that masking would be easier.  But that's the way I went, so my decal sets include only the nose swoop.  The intake and edge stripes, and the cab warbonnet, are left to masking tape, which means I generally procrastinate on painting cab units like there is no tomorrow.  Actually, more like there's nothing but tomorrows. ]

So fast-forward another couple of years, and I finally got disgusted with my procrastination and got on with it.  But at last here they are in service - and typical for BLIs, they sound maahhvelous.  Using a tip from my friend Tom Patterson (Chesapeake Wheeling & Erie), I tuned each A unit to slightly different generator pitches and notch voltages, so that their contrasting sounds would make them stand out from one another.


Now, why would there be Baldwin cabs on a predominantly EMD road, you ask?  Well, ya see like many roads, the SNR felt loyalty to one of its major steam builders, and found it just good corporate relations - as well as due diligence - to give a set of their road freight engines a whirl when they were introduced, in 1950.  So after having received 90 F3s in several batches from EMD, the railway ordered up 10 A units and 5 B units from Baldwin.  They fell right into the same freight cab number series as the EMDs, becoming #390-399, with the Bs tagged 390B-394B.

Sadly, while stout haulers, the Baldwins did not compare favorably to the EMDs in terms of reliability.  So with the next order, the railway picked up where it left off with F units, resuming the sequence at #400 and never looking back.  This left the chugging Baldwins adrift in a sea of whirring 2-stroke General Motors cab units.  


You may notice that the body color is a shade or two darker than the SNR standard "Polly-S C&O Enchantment Blue".  That is because the last diesel project (RS-1 #524) turned out to be a watershed moment in my life, where I had absolutely, positively had enough of screwing with an airbrush.  I have tried for 30+ years to use an airbrush successfully, and it is simply not something I'm wired for.  If it had bolts or nails or solder terminals or screw-tops it would be fine.  But paint is a fluid, and fluids other than hydraulic are non-binary, and therefore completely confounding.  So with #524 I decided - as the blotches once again spattered onto yet another shell - that life was too short to mess any further with things I hated.  So, aerosolized paint thenceforth was just going to have to come from a can.  It's sticky, glossy, and an inch thick, but hey - how much worse can it really be than an airbrush job done with Polly-S jelly, and by me.

Two problems:  

  1. The Polly-S C&O Enchantment Blue, as we know, bears virtually no resemblance to anyone else's C&O Enchantment Blue, least of all C&O's.  And, 
  2. Polly-S is not available in a spray bomb.  

Oh wait, 

      2a. Polly-S isn't available anymore period.  

So my throwing-down of the spray-paint gauntlet left me with limited choice of colors, and none of them matched the C&O Blue already worn by 31 SNR locomotives.  (I sure showed them!)  I did try several non-railroad colors though, and happened upon Model Master Dark Sea Blue as a pretty decent match in hue to the Polly-S C&O Blue - just a fairly dark shade.  Interestingly it was closer in hue to the SNR livery than Scalecoat II C&O Enchantment Blue was, which itself does a fair job of imitating C&O's original.  Regardless, though, since paint starts fading on the prototype the moment it leaves the shop, I decided that "slightly darker" simply was going to be acceptable.    

The stripes are Scalecoat II Reefer Orange.  [ There - thought you could use a short paragraph. 😀 ]

I had first tried the MM Dark Sea Blue on some mail & express cars, and was pleased with ("tolerant of") the results.  Interestingly, one of the factors that helped was that these express cars were just freight cars on high-speed trucks - so I hit them with Testor's Dullcote, rather than the semi-gloss lacquer I had been using on passenger cars and locomotives.  And I was amazed to find that the matte finish tended to catch enough light to actually lighten the shade of blue.  

Another interesting discovery is that a dark gray primer also lightened the shade of the top coat, whereas a white primer darkened it.  There is some unfamiliar branch of either physics or sorcery at work there.       

As for the Dullcote, I think many of us have noticed, as we've entered the 21st century's second score, that Dullcote in a can has ceased being "dull", so much as "satin".  So I decided that with all of the above factors at work, in addition to both body colors being glossy sprays, that finishing the Sharks with Dullcote instead of semi-gloss made sense.  And they really do seem to blend in pretty well.


I had been musing for a while that those Sharks would look pretty cool with the standard SNR cab-nose stripe.  I reduced the swoops on the ends to go a little better with the Shark's more angular features, vs. an EMD's.  What I did not expect was how hard that Michael Imperioli-quality beak was going to be to apply a decal to.  Man that thing is so pointy you basically need a butterfly bandage to cover it, like when you slice the end of your thumb off with an Xacto.  Not that I know anything about that.  But anyway, 2-3 decals apiece and a fair bit of filling and straightening with brush paint, and I do think the look is pretty cool.    

I let the bodies sit for so long between testing/tuning and painting that I completely forgot that the number boards are lighted.  I painted right over them - and then decaled them too, for good measure.  The GP7s have decaled, illuminated number boards - and I could have had them with the Sharks too, but noooooo.  Not worth fussing with at this stage, however.  It might make a fun mini-project someday, to go back and clean them off, and re-decal.  We'll see - another one for the "Someday When I'm Bored" list.

The Sharks also received the minimalist weathering thus far applied to cab units, which is to grunge up the air intake screens with a little India Ink and pastels, to give them some depth.   The BLIs have nice, see-through separate screens, whereas the Model Power B-unit has the screening cast in relief into the solid shell, old-school.  The slight grunge helps to make the distinction between those two treatments - and thus, the presence of a step-child in the consist - a good deal less obvious I think.


I was discussing the Sharks' legendary unreliability in later (and not-so-later) years with my friend Bob Bartizek (Pennsylvania & Western), and he mentioned that while that was an issue, the PRR loved them for coal service.  Apparently with their low-revving prime movers (the sound cards certainly bear that part out - every throttle notch sounds like about the same RPM) they were torque monsters.  They just dug in and lugged - which was ideal for slow, heavy drags of a material that will not rot if it gets stuck behind a disabled locomotive or several.   

The Baldwin reliability question does also raise the Broadway reliability question, though.  I've found these engines, like most BLIs, are very nicely detailed, run smoothly overall, and have terrific sound and features.  I've also found that, like most BLIs, they are picky, and will hit the turf and cry foul on any number of track imperfections that the good ol' anvil engines (Stewart, Atlas/Roco, and Heritage steam) have always just bulldozed through.  

They also exhibit schizophrenic electronic behavior, despite being only a couple running hours out of the sealed box.  Already #390 has several times simply left the building, and refused to respond to any throttle or direction commands, requiring a factory reset and re-programming.  And #396 will randomly accelerate to full throttle when asked to slow down.  Luckily it's coupled to #390 which, if it isn't off on its own sit-down strike, is able to restrain #396 while its voltage slowly decays back down to the consist's setting.   My friend Ed Swain (PRR Middle Division) has already embarked on a campaign to replace all his BLI decoders with Tsunami2's, and the SNR may not be far behind - outstanding factory sound characteristics notwithstanding.  

All in all though, assuming I can keep them on a leash, I'm pleased with the bit of mid-century-modern variety, amid the hordes of EMD cab units in the SNR fleet.  

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

It's Not Easy Being Green

Included on the SNR page which answers the question "OK, What's Up With Those Trees?" is a discussion of how:

  1. I unknowingly managed to paint my backdrop to look like a rainy day in the Blue Ridge, since it happened to be raining in the Blue Ridge on the day I took the pictures, and, 
  2. In a humbling life-event of serendipity, I also unknowingly managed to select a color palette for my trees which coordinated perfectly with said backdrop, through the sheer dumb luck of random selection from available Rustoleum spray can colors at Home Depot.
And no, I'm not buying a lottery ticket, since that happenstance used up my entire karma balance in one shot. 

So far, so good - so what's the problem?  Well the problem is, that I had already completed a lot of work using Woodland Scenics Light Green ground foam (**see footnote), which, as does nature when the sun hits it, contains a lot more yellow than when seen on a rainy day in the Blue Ridge.

Here's a good example - the scrub brush on the slope of a fill above Bryan Ferry.

This garish contrast bugged me for years, but not badly enough to rip it out and start over.  (Actually, life is short enough that there really are very few things that ever need to be ripped out and started over.  That's why we have paint, pastels, and backstory to rationalize with.)   

I'd made my peace with the small detail areas - weeds generally are yellower than perennial plants, right?  But the big areas, and especially those visible in the same glance as the forest and/or the backdrop, just clashed, man.  A serious eyesore.  Both are green, but miles apart on the spectrum.  As I was working the forest westward from Three Rocks toward that fill, I got to where I couldn't stand it anymore.  Something had to be done (short of ripping it out, but I'll admit I was close).

In the aforementioned Rationalization Toolkit which contains Paint, Pastels, and Backstory, I chose Paint as the best weapon for the circumstances.  But rather than just paint all that ground foam** a bluer green, leaving it bright, crusty, and irregular - why not just use the blue pigment to adjust the green-ish color that was already there?  Yellow + blue = green, right?

So I made up a dye, from a shglorp of blue acrylic paint, and a lot of water.  I kept adding water until the mix was as thin as possible while still able to effect a color change on the ground foam**.  (In reality, I just kept trying mixes until the jar I'd selected was full, and pronounced that mix good.) 

Then all that was left was to stipple it on the ground foam**, making sure to mop it back up off the cinders and ballast.  The ground foam** being essentially a sponge, it just soaked up the dye and distributed it pretty evenly.  Although, it is important to keep the stuff at the bottom of the grade drained, as the mix is thin enough that it will eventually run down and settle into the lowest sponges. You can see that effect on the left side below.

At the halfway point, the difference is night and day:

It's a little uneven under close inspection, but hey, it's scenery.  And anyway, no one's nose should be within a couple feet of that fill!

In the overall view, the finished fill slope blends in a great deal better with the forest and backdrop, than the raw Light Green color did.  Enough at least that it no longer jumps out at me and makes my eyes hurt.

Next steps include applying the same treatment to several other large swathes of ground foam**, and, completing the forest below this fill and the rest of the scenery at Bryan Ferry.  Thanks for reading.  


** "Ground Foam".  How long did it take you to realize it's actually "ground FOAM", since it's foam that's ground up?  Rather than "GROUND foam", assuming it's foam that you put on the ground?  Just now?   Yeah, me too - or at least let's say 30 years.  😀  

Here's another one - how long did it take you to notice that "Arby's" is a phonetic play on "R.B."?  As in, "Roast Beef"?  That's just one of those things that occurs to you out of the blue while you're driving along, and you end up saying "oh, yeeeeeeaaaahhhh, I get it!" to the windshield.